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The Technological Challenge


Realities, however, were as deceptive in the Brezhnev era (1964-82) as they had been in the reign of Nicholas I. The factors of power in the world were changing quickly. In Nicholass day, it had been the spread of the industrial revolution in Western Europe that had jeopardized Russias status as a great power. Under Leonid Brezhnev, it was the revolution of the microchip and the computer. 

Soviet missiles take part in the Red Square military parade: 1961

In the postwar period, the leading industrialized countries of the West entered the era of scientific and technical revolution. This set the scene for rapid transition to a new, postindustrial stage of development. As the technological revolution advanced, it was becoming more and more obvious that certain inherent characteristics of the Soviet economic model stood in the way of technological progress and that in spite of the fact that the country was a world leader in many fields of science, including space exploration and civilian and military uses of nuclear power.

The problem was that the latest scientific and technological achievements were slow to enter into production on a nationwide scale, with the exception of the military-industrial complex. Overcentralization, the absence of competition, and a lack of self-interest, motivation, and material incentives at all levels of the economy were the main impediments to technological progress.

Moreover, Soviet planners needed to find ways of making the Soviet economic system more attentive to consumers. The life of Soviet consumers was plagued by endemic shortages of consumer goods, overcrowded housing conditions, and primitive consumer services. To continue to ignore consumers needs was becoming more and more dangerous politically.

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